How the Peasant House Became a National Symbol


The author– who has retired from a chair in European ethnology at the University of Copenhagen – has a past as curator at the Open Air Museum near Copenhagen. In this article he is investigating his own roots by analyzing the role that “folk culture”, especially peasant houses and dwelling-rooms, played in the construction of national culture.
The interest for the material elements of folk culture developed inside the framework of the great exhibitions, and was further cultivated in two new types of permanent institutions: museums of applied art and “folk museums”/open air museums. The establishment of folk museums culminated in the decades around 1900. This was also a period of national mobilization and dominated by the national principle that political and ethnic unity should agree, with oppression of minorities as well as their political mobilization as consequences. How is this development mirrored in the uses of folk culture? Among other things in the way that ethnic groups without a proper state of their own become providers of national symbols for the dominant nations. This is exemplified by the way in which the Dutch, the Germans and the Danes have used elements of Frisian culture in their respective nation-building. In the same period there is a national struggle to possess desired treasures of folk culture. This is illustrated by two examples of a national German-Danish conflict about old farm houses from the border area between the two nations.

How to Cite

Stoklund, B., (1999) “How the Peasant House Became a National Symbol”, Ethnologia Europaea 29(1), 5-18. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Bjarne Stoklund (University of Copenhagen)



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